Qatar Airways goes Hollywood but dresses down LAX

LOS ANGELES: Qatar Airways’ press conference this week to announce the luxury purveyor’s expansion into Los Angeles, held at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, was quite a spectacle, featuring Arabic coffee, a sumptuous buffet, silk-covered chairs, two women in evening gowns who looked like they may have stumbled in from a Golden Globes after-party across the street, and an online journalist who wore diamond-encrusted sunglasses the entire time. If there was ever any doubt that the airline of the rich and famous was the perfect fit for the city where they name airports after dead actors, then it was surely dispelled the minute former Baywatch star Brooke Burns took the stage to introduce the speakers.

Flanked by Los Angeles World Airports executive director Deborah Flint and Qatar’s VP of the Americas, Gunter Saurwein, company CEO His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker held court in Beverly Hills in a style that can best be described as Hollywood Studio Mogul 101. Loud, funny, sarcastic, boastful and opinionated in the extreme, Al Baker didn’t pull a Trump and have anyone forcibly ejected from the Verandah Room, but he definitely made every effort to steer the proceedings in his favor, lashing out at the big three American carriers, particularly Delta, for “bullying” Qatar and other Gulf carriers and attempting to stymie their expansion into the US market.

At the end of the day, one has to wonder how much actual bite was buried under Al Baker’s dramatic, sound bite-ready bluster, particularly when Al Baker threatened to pull out of global airline alliance oneworld to form his own “mini alliance” unless American Airlines turns down the heat on its anti-ME3 rhetoric. “We won’t be bullied,” vowed Al Baker in a dramatic flourish worthy of a cold-war thriller.

Kontron NOW - VIDEO Avionics_300x300_watchVideoBut some of Al Baker’s choicest jabs were aimed, ironically enough, at LAX itself. Chiding Flint for LAX’s less-than-stellar reputation on the world-class airport front, Al Baker asked her to not be too “jealous” as he unveiled a series of dramatic photos of Qatar’s central hub, the glittery Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Though the multi-million-dollar expansion plans for LAX may not include anything as lavish as an in-terminal spa and swimming pool or a shiny mosque shaped like a giant water bubble, one can only hope that the addition of Qatar’s daily nonstop service to Doha will at least spur LAX into moving things along at a quicker clip.

Al Baker also played up the mysterious, cloak-and-dagger elements of Qatar’s new proprietary seats for business class and economy (set to roll out later this year) by claiming that only five people knew what they looked like and that he was flying to an undisclosed US location later this week to inspect them. If I’m not mistaken, the “singer-entertainer” sitting in the row in front of me actually gasped when Al Baker made this statement, so the man clearly caters to his target audience.

But what struck me most about the press conference was Al Baker’s quick change act towards the end. Pressed by Airline Reporter for details about Qatar’s decision to adopt the super-snug 10-abreast seating configuration on its 777s, Al Baker sharply retorted that the change would hardly even register with someone who wasn’t an aviation journalist and that, at the end of the day, his carrier was still in the business of making money, which sort of flies in the face of everything that came before. Especially for someone so adept at peddling luxury to the fancy folks in attendance, though presumably they won’t be flying in economy. It seems clear that the gulf between “the haves” and the “have nots” is widening on board.

Either way, the one thing you can’t argue with is that Qatar and Al Baker definitely know how to put on a killer show; even renting out the Dolby Theater for a launch party concert held later that evening with Mariah Carey. In a town where, for better or worse, that’s often all that matters, they’ll fit right in.

Welcome to the jungle.



  1. Syed Nadeem

    Good luck, hopefully they will give the lousy US carriers a run for their money and raise standards for the US public. I support Qatar and wish them well.

    • Jim Lewis

      Last month Akbar Al Baker said, “Let Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson come face to face with me in any forum,” Al Baker said, “I will hang him on a wall.” So typical for that part of the world. “Hang him on a wall”, or maybe behead him, place an IED near his parking spot or bomb his headquarters with a car bomb. Akbar ought to be ashamed of himself.

  2. Jim Lewis

    It’s just this simple. The ME3 signed an open skies agreement with the US government. An important part of the agreement was that they would not receive government funding. In return our government opened up our markets to them. They’ve not honored the agreement and it should either be renegotiated or revoked. That’s the issue.

    Last month Akbar Al Baker said, “Let Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson come face to face with me in any forum,” Al Baker said, “I will hang him on a wall.” So typical for that part of the world. “Hang him on a wall”, or maybe behead him, place an IED near his parking spot or bomb his headquarters with a car bomb. Akbar ought to be ashamed of himself.

    The simple fact is: The middle eastern carriers signed an open skies agreement with the US government stating they would not receive state money…they are not following the agreement. The US government needs to take action instead of getting pushed around by foreign governments who offer nothing in return for opening up our markets, whether it be the airline industry or any other industry. He can talk about other state-run airlines until he is blue in the face, but the fact remains that Qatar, Emirates and Etihad signed the agreement. They are not following the agreement and should be banned for flying to the US.

    Now I’ve read what most Americans think about this issue: Most people say the Middle Eastern carriers have newer airplanes and better amenities so I don’t care how they do it, just let them fly domestically in the US…screw our own airlines. Now ignoring the “how” of the middle eastern carriers ability to provide better service, younger flight attendants, newer airplanes, nicer airports etc is akin to the German people ignoring the obvious prior to WW2. I guess it’s human nature right? Who cares how they do it right…as long as the economy improves, the streets are clean and the planes and trains run on time.

    Sure…IF the US airlines received the $42 billion dollars in government money the middle eastern airlines have…they would have new jets, young flight attendants and better food too. And I’m not even mentioning the US taxpayer dollars that subsidize the Boeing aircraft orders through the Ex/Import Bank. Just ridiculous!

    What’s funny is I’m sure most of the commenters that post comments on this story would not support a socialist, communist or monarchy “state” supported company coming in and competing in whatever industry these folks might work for…but if it’s an airline wow…that’s another story.